KANSAS CITY, Mo. – This winter has been extraordinary from a weather standpoint in Northern Illinois. It has been unusually cold and snowy. During the past three or four decades, winters in Northern Illinois have been relatively mild and dry. And then every time it did snow, it seemed as though a warm front would move in to begin melting whatever snow just fell.

This year, snowfalls in this area have been frequent and followed by Arctic cold fronts — and on some days it seemed as though the snow would never stop falling. As a result, the snow around here has been piling up. By 6 pm on Monday, Feb. 17, Chicago (which is 60 miles east of where I live) had recorded 4.7 inches of snowfall, bringing the season so far to a total of 66.8 inches and beating the full-season total for 1951-52 of 66.4 inches. Since snow records began in the winter of 1884-1885, snowfall in Chicago has topped 70 inches only three times, according to the Chicago Tribune. We just might make this total — particularly when you factor in the possibility of lake-effect snow from Lake Michigan.

Out here, a heavy snow fall easily turns into a white-out due to fluffy snow and drifts on corn and soy bean fields blowing west to east, which adds exponentially to the snow-drifts around our neighborhood because it’s usually windy.

Although I like the cold and snow, I recognized last week a bad case of cabin fever was setting in. My wife and I wanted to go to Wisconsin for the day on Feb. 17 but couldn’t due to the drifting snow on the roads. As the dark, cold and snow were beginning to take their toll, my wife decided to invite the kids and our granddaughter this past weekend for a post-Valentine’s Day party. Despite several feet of snow on our deck, lawn and frozen pond off the commons trail behind us, it was summer-like indoors because she made barbecued pulled pork with fruit salad, macaroni salad and coleslaw—all made from scratch, including her barbecue sauce. This was washed down by a favorite summertime soft drink of mine since I was a kid—Squirt. Not only did it taste great, but it brought back great memories and took our minds off the relentless snow for the time being.

Two Saturdays ago, we met our kids and granddaughter at a local wildlife sanctuary building in the woods northeast of us. Even though it was snowing to beat the band, our kids made the long haul from Chicago in time to see the several dogsleds being pulled by teams of Huskies racing around the outskirts of the nearby woods. After that, we all thawed out and dried out at a local restaurant while dining on one of our summertime favorites — hamburgers and fries. And then several weeks before that, I grilled some pepperjack bratwurst indoors and heated up some baked beans because the outside grill was buried under a ton of snow plus the temperature was subzero around that time with blowing, drifting snow. Again, the menu seemed to pep up our weather-weary family again.

Working at home, it’s not unusual for me to get cabin fever around this time each year. So, whenever that happens around lunch time, I’ll occasionally dip into our freezer and pull out a couple of natural-casing hot dogs for lunch and the winter monster in me begins to die down, at least for the time being.

If you’re looking for something different to feed family and friends during what’s left of this winter of 2014, consider having an indoor picnic complete with summer fare, such as bratwursts, hot dogs, hamburgers, ribs, or chicken…plus some summer side dishes like fruit salad, macaroni salad and baked beans. For those of you who are more summer people than winter people, I guarantee you dining on summer food will help you get through the remaining weeks of winter a little easier. And for those of you who love winter and the snow, keep those bags of beef jerky handy while outside. Better yet — brave the cold and snow and go out and clean off your deck and fire-up your barbecue. You’ll be glad you did.